A Mormon Studies conference in Finland

The European Mormon Studies Association conference is quickly becoming an important feature on the Mormon Studies calendar. A perusal of this year’s papers might give you some sense of this:

Brian Birch (Utah Valley University, USA)
The “apostasy” meme in Mormonism and the battle over Mormonism’s “Christian” identity.

Grant Underwood (Brigham Young University, USA)
Explored the doctrines of “justification” and “sanctification” in Mormonism and Christianity, paying particular attention to the Lutheran tradition as explored by Mannermaa at Helsinki.

Heikki Räisänen (University of Helsinki, Finland)
Joseph Smith’s revision of the Bible in the tradition of Christian harmonising of biblical inconsistencies.

Followed by a panel discussion with: Brian Birch, Douglas J. Davies, Heikki Räisänen and Grant Underwood (Walter van Beek, moderator). I liked Underwood’s suggestion that Joseph’s revision of the Bible was not an act of over-confidence but rather an admission of weakness: in 1831, Joseph’s only rhetorical/exegetical skill was as a revelator and translator.

Graham Stott (Arab American University, Palestine; member of the Community of Christ)
The martyrdoms at Ammonihah: Alma stayed his hand not to bring about an eschatological “justice,” but rather the destruction of wicked Ammonihah, thus revealing God’s holiness.

Risto Räty (Åbo Akademi University, Finland)
“The Challenges of Latter-day Saint Identity.” Discussed, inter alia, Mormonism’s anthropomorphic God and its shortening of the ontological distance between God and man.

Stephen J. Fleming (University of California at Santa Barbara, USA)
“Magic” (=”Christian folk religion”) was common in England (cf. Mormonism’s English converts).

Douglas J. Davies (Durham University, United Kingdom)
“The Holy Spirit in Latter-day Saint Thought”: the “Spirit” as a Mormon cipher for “emotion.” Why is the Holy Spirit not present at Mormonism’s paradigmatic scenes (Council in Heaven, Garden of Gethsemane, First Vision)?

Ronan James Head (Johns Hopkins University, USA / United Kingdom)
“Mormon Children in the British Classroom: A Survey of Attitudes Towards School-Based Statutory Religious Education.”

Reid L. Neilson (Brigham Young University, USA)
Told the story of Andrew Jenson’s LDS world tour, 1895-1897.

Johnnie Glad (University of Stavanger, Norway; Lutheran minister and former Lutheran missionary)
A discussion of why Mormon missions struggle to retain converts.

Richard Sherlock (Utah State University, USA)
Mormon theology’s very personal God and the importance of personal revelation.

David M. Morris (University of Chichester, United Kingdom)
Modes and methods of Mormon conversions in 19th century England

Kim Östman (Åbo Akademi University, Finland)
“Reactions of Lutheran Clergy to Mormon Proselytizing in Finland, 1875–1889.”

Fred E. Woods (Brigham Young University, USA)
The history of George Ramsden, emigration agent for the Guion Line in Liverpool.

Ron E. Bartholomew (Brigham Young University, USA)
Why was there only minimal contact between Mormon missionaries and other Christian sects in 19th century Bedfordshire?

Dustin J. Eaton (Claremont Graduate University, USA)
Are European missions baptising Europeans?

Walter van Beek (Tilburg University, The Netherlands)
“The Gideon Syndrome in European Mormonism.” How European Mormons have fashioned a Mormon elite.

Michael W. Homer (Utah State Historical Society, USA)
“The Mormon Factor in the Romney Presidential Campaign: U.S. Perspectives.”

Massimo Introvigne (Center for Studies on New Religions, Italy)
“The Mormon Factor in the Romney Presidential Campaign: European Perspectives.”

EMSA is trying hard to carve a niche as a respectable, independent academic forum. It’s looking like we will meet in Italy next August. I highly recommend it.


L-R: Birch, Underwood, van Beek, Davies, Räisänen.


  1. Looks great; wish I had a spare ticked out to Finland.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    How many people roughly attended? Any good skinny from the conference you could share with us? Looks like it was a great lineup.

  3. The best part of the conference is that it’s small enough (just under 50) that you can really get to know people. (It was fun to see some people who came last year.) But as the lineup shows, we are attracting some great scholars. It’s important to stress, too, that EMSA is not intended to be a gathering of Mormons. We will succeed if we can be seen as an independent forum for the study of Mormonism in Europe.

  4. That looks incredible, and a great success. I think that having an independent forum — not just intellectually independent in the traditional sense, but also geographically and culturally independent — is something so new and important that EMSA is at the forefront of what’s cool in Mormon Studies.

  5. This really is impressive, Ronan. Major kudos to the minds and hands behind EMSA. I would love to attend one of these times.

  6. Thanks for the summary, Ronan. Fleming gave me a glowing report as well. EMSA’s survived long enough to have two conferences now, so that’s a great sign.

  7. Too bad we can’t get a live feed for this. While we benefit in the US from many conferences, we miss out on great ones like this where we have experts with different perspectives on topics that we would not expect at a conference.

  8. John Hamer says:

    Congratulations, Ronan & all the EMSA organizers!

  9. Ronan, how did the conference break down by gender? Is the study of Mormonism in Europe primarily a male endeavour?

  10. Julie M. Smith says:

    “Douglas J. Davies (Durham University, United Kingdom)
    “The Holy Spirit in Latter-day Saint Thought”: the “Spirit” as a Mormon cipher for “emotion.” Why is the Holy Spirit not present at Mormonism’s paradigmatic scenes (Council in Heaven, Garden of Gethsemane, First Vision)?”

    That sounds *really* interesting.

  11. Julie – It was very interesting. It was one of my favourite papers.

    Overall, it was a great conference, some excellent papers and ideas.

  12. Kris #9.
    Utterly male.

  13. My own report: Ronan is taller than I thought.

    And many of the papers were fascinating, especially the keynote and panel.

  14. Were there (m)any “regular” LDS in attendance like one often sees at these kinds of events in the US?

  15. Norb,
    That sauna and those pasties by the river – wonderful! What was that nice drink we enjoyed?

  16. JWL,
    Not that many. Only a few, including an LDS Public Affairs couple.

  17. Looks so fun. What a great conference!

  18. Really can’t truly appreciate the BOM until you read it in the original Finnish… –

  19. Again — Mike, hunh?

  20. Pommac. Yeah, it was a nice evening — good sauna, good conversation.

    I should add that some of the participants came to my ward the following Sunday and outed me as an intellectual by explaining why they were in Finland and identifying me as being in attendance at the conference.

  21. Er, not that “nice drink”…

  22. Gentlemen, was this really the sort of get-together where you lose track of what you were drinking?

  23. Could someone give us just a hint of what Douglas Davies said in that Holy Ghost session? I know that Joseph Smith’s views on the godhead evolved; is that what Davies is talking about?